Tom Curran may have missed out on a dream start to life as a Test cricketer when he was denied the wicket of David Warner on 99 after overstepping but the 22-year-old showed enough on debut to suggest he has what it takes to succeed at this level.
After receiving his cap from England great Bob Willis in the morning, Curran acquitted himself well on the opening day of this Boxing Day Test, generally bowling tight and mixing things up with smart changes of pace.
He is not express pace – far from it. He does have something different about him, though, and an attitude England captain Joe Root termed “feisty” on the eve of this match was welcome for the tourists.
This is a bowler who has grown up with Twenty20 and who took a wicket – Reeza Hendricks - with his second ball in international cricket during England’s T20 against South Africa at Taunton back in June.
Chris Gayle was a notable first scalp when he played his first ODI against West Indies at Southampton in September.
But Warner, especially with the Australia opener one short of his century, would have beaten that given the enormity of the occasion and the 88,172 crowd here at the MCG.
Alas the delivery that tempted Warner into an errant top-edge pull was a no-ball. Despite the fact this was entirely Curran’s fault, you couldn’t help but feel for the youngster – and England, for whom this was another punch to the guts in a series when they have been well and truly beaten up by Steve Smith’s team.
However, rather than being affected negatively by the experience, Curran, in England’s team for the injured Craig Overton, responded with fire and a positive attitude that seemed to enthuse the entire visiting attack during an afternoon session when they fought back well by taking three Australian wickets.
Indeed, when drawn into a verbal battle with Warner after the Australian’s escape and then hundred, Curran did not shy away from the confrontation. In fact, he actually embraced it.
Team-mate James Anderson said of the debutant’s horror moment: “I’m gutted for him. It was hard to watch, really, seeing the elation in his face and then watch it drain from his face a few seconds later when the big screen came up. It’s heartbreaking but one of things you learn the hard way, on Boxing Day at the MCG.”
Curran himself admitted: “It was horrible, the worst feeling I’ve had, but looking at the positives, I get to get my first wicket twice.”
The son of former Zimbabwe all-rounder Kevin Curran, the Surrey bowler is part of cricketing dynasty that includes his younger brother Sam, a left-armer who swings the ball more than Tom.
His performance on the first day of this Test, which saw him return figures of 0-44 from 17 overs at an economy rate of 2.58, drew high praise from Australian cricketing royalty in Glenn McGrath.
Speaking to BBC’s Test Match Special, McGrath said: “Curran has good energy. As a young guy in his first Test you want to see that anyway but he bowls good areas and the ball skids on.
“He will have to do little bit in the air and have good control but he is bowling well here.”
Shane Warne, commentating on Channel Nine, remarked Curran was “the pick” of England’s bowlers.
And former England spinner Graeme Swann praised the newcomer for injecting some much-needed energy into a previously out-of-sorts Stuart Broad, whose spell in the second half of the afternoon session could have brought him three wickets rather than just the one of Usman Khawaja.
“It has been a brilliant fightback,” Swann said.
“I have been very proud of how Tom Curran has led the charge. He has done nothing more than be a good honest bowler and shown that Curran family self-belief. I believe it has inspired Stuart Broad as well who has looked a different bowler.”
Swann was less complimentary about Moeen Ali, who kept his place in England’s XI after overcoming a hand injury sustained in the nets on Christmas Day but whose poor bowling – going at 5.83 during six wicketless overs – saw Root turn to Dawid Malan’s part-time leg-spin rather than his No1 slow-bowling option.
“This is biggest pat on the back for Malan but think about Moeen Ali now,” he said.
“The captain has lost faith in his off spinner.”
Geoffrey Boycott was even more scathing, suggesting that Moeen will not get into the team once fellow all-rounder Ben Stokes returns after the conclusion of his criminal case that has seen him miss the Magellan Ashes.
“When Stokes comes back England have to go for Stokes at six, Bairstow at seven and then find a quality spinner,” said the England great. “They have to for the future. If that means Moeen doesn’t play, sorry we have to find a better-balanced attack.”
Australia XI: Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitch Marsh, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England XI: Joe Root (c), Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Dawid Malan, Chris Woakes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Moeen Ali, Tom Curran, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
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